Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Renewable Electricity Nearly Doubles with Obama in Office

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 09:24 AM PDT

 
Non-hydro renewable electricity generation has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, reaching 5.75 percent of net electricity, according to figures from the Energy Information Administration.

In 2008, before Obama entered the White House, non-hydro resources like solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass represented just over 3 percent of generation. Today, they total nearly 6 percent.

Ken Bossong of the Sun Day Campaign has been meticulously following EIA generation figures over the years. In his assessment of the figures below, Bossong offers an historical perspective:

During 2008, the last full year of the Bush Administration, non-hydro renewables accounted for 3.06% of net electrical generation with an average monthly output of 10,508 gigawatthours. By mid-2012, the average monthly electrical generation from non-hydro renewables had grown by 78.70% to 18,777 gigawatthours. Comparing monthly electrical output in 2008 versus 2012, solar has expanded by 285.19%, wind by 171.72%, and geothermal by 13.53%. However, electrical generation from biomass dropped by 0.56%.

According to the latest issue of the monthly "Energy Infrastructure Update" published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects with data for the first half of 2012, 229 renewable energy projects accounted for more than 38% of new electrical generation capacity (not to be confused with actual generation). This includes 50 wind energy projects (2,367 MW), 111 solar energy projects (588 MW), 59 biomass projects (271 MW), 5 geothermal projects (87 MW), and 4 water power projects (11 MW).

New renewable energy electrical generating capacity was more than double that of coal (2 new units totaling 1,608 MW). No new nuclear capacity came on line during the first half of 2012. However, 40 new natural gas units came on line with 3,708 MW of capacity (42% of the total). Renewable energy sources now account for 14.76% of total installed operating generating capacity (water-8.66%; wind-4.30%, biomass-1.23%, geothermal-0.31%, solar**-0.26%). This is more than nuclear (9.16%) but less than natural gas (41.83%) and coal (29.66%). The balance comes from waste heat (0.07%).

As natural gas and renewable energy development has surged, net generation from coal has fallen substantially. According to the EIA figures, coal-fired electricity has dropped 20 percent since May of 2011. (The decline in domestic coal is mostly due to plants switching to natural gas, according to the EIA — not EPA regulations).

Obama himself acknowledged the surge in renewable energy yesterday during a campaign event at Colorado State University:

"You believed we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that threatens our planet. And in just four years, we have doubled the generation of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar. We developed new fuel standards for our cars so that cars are going to get 55 miles a gallon next decade. That will save you money at the pump.  It will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a level roughly equivalent to a year's worth of carbon emissions from all the cars in the world put together."

"If your friends or neighbors are concerned about energy, you tell them, do we want an energy plan written by and for big oil companies?"

"Or do we want an all-of-the-above energy strategy for America — renewable sources of energy. Governor Romney calls them 'imaginary.' Congressman Ryan calls them a 'fad.' I think they're the future. I think they're worth fighting for."

In 2011, global investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels for the first time. Since 2004, one trillion dollars have been invested in the global clean energy sector.

This article was originally published on Think Progress. It has been reposted with permission.

Image: solar, wind, hydro graphics via Shutterstock


Solar’s ITC Tax Credit Is a Big Money-Maker for the US (Not Social Welfare), Study Finds

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 09:12 AM PDT

 
This is a great recent post from Herman Trabish of Greentech Media. As the lead-in well summarizes: “A new study ‘blows apart the notion that the ITC is somehow welfare for the solar industry.‘” Here’s the piece:

The honeymoon is over, a European regulator recently reportedly observed about renewables. A divorce? He was asked. No, he replied. It is a maturing relationship. Renewables have to show their benefit. We're not going to do it simply because we love them.

The main U.S. federal support provided to solar is the investment tax credit (ITC). Given today's hard economic times, it is important to know if U.S. solar is returning the "love" the federal government is providing with taxpayer dollars.

The ITC allows a tax credit equal to 30 percent of a project's costs. After 2016, the credit will be stepped down to 10 percent.

Supported by both the Bush and Obama administrations, the ITC has enabled lease and Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) financing mechanisms which, according to GTM Research's most recent Solar Market Insight report, accounted for more than 63 percent of California residential installations and more than 80 percent of Colorado residential installations in Q1 2012.

California, which represents 40 percent of U.S. solar, went from 42,933 total kilowatts installed in the first five months of 2011 to 77,473 kilowatts in the same period of 2012. But kilowatts installed with cash went down from 23,360 to 21,223, while kilowatts installed using third-party financing lease and PPA models nearly tripled from 19,572 to 56,250.

 

Paid in Full: An Analysis of the Return to the Federal Taxpayer for Internal Revenue Code Section 48 Solar Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC), authored by SolarCity Structured Finance Associate Connie Chern and sponsored by financial coalition U.S. PREF, demonstrates that, over the life of solar assets installed in residential and commercial settings, lease and PPA financing structures can deliver a nominal 10 percent internal rate of return (IRR) to the federal government for its ITC investment.

It is, SolarCity Communications Director Jonathan Bass said, "a fairly narrow look" at the IRR-generating revenues. It considers only taxable wages and revenues by the direct participants in the solar projects modeled: the developer, the commercial EPC or residential installer, and the energy user.

"We're not looking at all the external factors," Bass said, such as those included in the comprehensive Job and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) calculator NREL uses to assess economic benefits of renewables. Including those, he said, could significantly increase the calculated ITC benefits.

The study modeled a 200-kilowatt commercial project at an estimated cost of $1 million. The 30 percent ITC would mean a taxpayer investment of $300,000. The revenue returned from developer, EPC and owner taxes was calculated at $677,627, for a benefit above investment of $377,627. That's a 126 percent return on investment (ROI), which, over 30 years, is a roughly 10 percent per year interest on investment.

A five-kilowatt residential system, estimated at $35,000, would get a $10,500, 30-percent ITC. Total revenue would be $22,882, for a benefit of $12,382, a 118 percent ROI which, over 30 years, would also be an approximately 10 percent annual return.

Because investors in the lease and PPA mechanisms typically do so to take advantage of the accelerated depreciation mechanism allowed by the tax code to capital improvement investments as well as the ITC, Chern also modeled ROI scenarios that included both tax breaks.

"We felt it was important to show that impact," Chern said, adding, "We didn't feel the purpose of the paper was to look at depreciation."

In those cases, the annual return to the taxpayer for the commercial and residential systems is approximately 1 percent. With both tax breaks, "the government is essentially recouping its investment," Bass said, but "what's unique to solar is the ITC."

 

Some 90 percent of the nearly 5,000-megawatt U.S. installed solar capacity was built after the ITC was increased to 30 percent during the Bush administration, Chern's study reported from GTM Research and SEIA data.

But incentives for solar energy, according to a University of Tennessee Howard Baker Center May 2012 report, are "less per megawatt-hour than for any other fuel source by a factor of ten," despite the fact that "the solar industry has produced more jobs per megawatt-hour than any other energy industry," Chern's study also reported.

Neither Chern nor Bass could say if there are comparable studies of the benefits from incentives provided to other energies.

"The point of this paper was to analyze solar," Chern said, "because it hasn't been done."

"If you were going to make a cross-comparison," Bass added, "you would need to consider environmental impacts, job impacts, fuel costs versus the cost of project development and a lot of other factors."

KPMG, one of the widely respected Big Four auditing firms, reviewed the study and found its income tax assumptions, incentive numbers, financial model architecture and mathematical formulas to be correct.

"It's a very sophisticated analysis," DBL Investors managing partner Nancy Pfund said recently. "It blows apart the notion that the ITC is somehow welfare for the solar industry at the taxpayer's expense. Quite the opposite; it's a revenue generator."

With the solar trade war still a thorn in the industry's side and the House of Representatives increasingly hostile to renewables, this research could turn a few important heads.


Wine in a Keg is the New Green Trend

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 08:19 AM PDT

 
Restaurants across the nation are pouring wine in a new way: from a tap. Wine in a keg isn't a new idea; in Europe, kegged wine has a long history. Now, American restaurants are catching on to the trend, largely in response to customer demand for more eco-friendly wine.

Image from Micromatic

One keg of wine holds the equivalent of 26 bottles. Each one of those bottles uses up a lot of resources, in its glass, cork, foil, paper labels, and the cases and pallets it is stored in. Kegs, by contrast, don't need much packaging, and can be reused for 20 years or more. Over its lifetime, a keg eliminates the need for 3,000 bottles.

Transporting kegs instead of bottles leaves a smaller carbon footprint. Kegs reduce wine's weight, which accounts for one third to one half of transportation carbon emissions in the wine industry. And since it is often small, boutique wineries that offer wines by the keg, using kegged wine encourages restaurants to get their wines locally, further reducing transportation carbon emissions.

Kegs also keep wine from being wasted. 80 percent of wine in a typical restaurant is sold by the glass. Once the cork is removed, air flows into the bottle, and oxidation begins. And as anyone who's ever tried to save a half-empty bottle for another night knows, wine in a bottle only takes a day or two to go bad.

Kegs don't have this problem. When a keg is tapped, a non-reactive gas (such as nitrogen) pressurizes the contents, preventing oxygen from reaching the wine. Kegged wine can stay fresh for up to a year. This makes kegged wine attractive to restaurants owners, who, on average, lose 25 percent of their profit by throwing out bottles they've only sold a glass or two from.

Of course, not every wine is right for the keg. Wine kept in a keg won't age like wine in a bottle will. Kegs are a good fit for wine that's meant to be drunk right away–about 90 percent of all wines produced. For these wines, the keg trend means a more sustainable alternative.

Sustainability is something that's become important to the wine industry in recent years. Because wineries are often passed from generation to generation, their soil needs to stay fertile in the long-term. Many vintners are taking strides to prevent soil depletion, water pollution, resistance to pests, and dependence on chemicals. With the new trend of kegged wine, sustainability is spreading from the vineyard where the wine is made into the restaurants that serve it.

Stephanie Warren is a freelance writer who has written for Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, and several of Scholastic's children's science magazines.


Exagon Motors Furtive e-GT Like “Sitting on a Cloud,” Former Racer Says (VIDEO)

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 08:00 AM PDT

 
The upcoming Exagon Motors Furtive e-GT is apparently one sweet car… here’s a video and post from sister site Gas2:



Video: Furtive e-GT EV Goes 'Round The Nurburgring (via Gas 2.0)

The Nurburgring has become the go-to place for new cars to get some serious street cred as performance vehicles. It isn't just traditional performance cars that are making use of the 'Ring either; all-electric cars have been using the famed German track to get data to improve both the product,…




EV Truck & Van — FTW!

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 07:30 AM PDT

 
Here’s a look at an awesome new electric truck and electric van coming to market soon. Some great, fun writing by Susanna as well:



An EV That Hauls A$$ AND Hauls Cargo? Via Is Here (via Gas 2.0)

I've test driven a handful of electric cars, and the VIA is by far the most powerful I've ever been in. It has to be, to carry 5,500 lbs plus however many tons of stuff you plan to haul to the jobsite. Tomorrow I'll be test driving the Fisker Karma, but today the 402hp VIA truck blew my mind. …




More Reasons Why We Do What We Do: Arctic Sea Ice Drops Off a Cliff, & Worldwide Drought Overview

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 07:00 AM PDT

 
Of course, there are many reasons why we don’t want our global climate screwed up. They tend to end at: it supports all life on Earth! Here are two stak reminders of why we here at CleanTechnica are working our butts off to promote and advance clean energy and other cleantech:

1. The Biggest Story You Aren't Seeing on the News. Sea Ice in Free Fall.

Hurricane Isaac vs the Republicans is rising on the charts – but its really a footnote compared to the big story. How long before the major media turn cameras on the jaw-dropping drama that's had scientists transfixed for the last 3 weeks?

Arctic Sea Ice Blog:

I apologize for having provided so little analysis lately, but things are moving so fast that analysis can't keep up. Now I know what an IPCC regional model for the Arctic must feel like. ;-)

Basically, I'm at a loss for words, and not just because my jaw has dropped and won't go back up as long as I'm looking at the graphs. I'm also at a loss – and I have already said it a couple of times this year – because I just don't know what to expect any longer. I had a very steep learning curve in the past two years. We all did. But it feels as if everything I've learned has become obsolete. As if you've learned to play the guitar a bit in two years' time, and then all of a sudden have to play a xylophone. Will trend lines go even lower, or will the remaining ice pack with its edges so close to the North Pole start to freeze up?

ClimateCodeRed:

UPDATE 27 AUGUST: Sunday's data confirms that the previous sea-ice extent minimum of 24 September 2007 was broken last Friday, 24 August 2012. What is also stunning are sea-ice daily extent figures averaging ice loss of more than 100,000 square kilometres per day for the last four days. This suggest melt is accelerating very late in the melt season in a pattern that has never before been observed. The Arctic this year is heading into new territory and it looks like 2012 may in retrospect be seen as the year when a new melt regime took hold.

The ice extent is about to drop below 4 million square kilometres for the first time in the satellite record, and the Arctic has shed almost half a million square kilometres of sea-ice in last five days! With three weeks of the melt season still to go, it's not hard to see extent dropping another half a million square kilometres (or more!) to 3.5 million square kilometres. (In previous big melt years of 2007 and 2011, around half a million square kilometres was lost after 26 August.)

This is starting to make the second graph (below) looking reasonable, and those scientists and models which have been suggesting an sea-ice-free summer Arctic within a decade to be on the money.

Climate change impacts are frequently happening more quickly and at lower levels of global warming than scientists expected, even a decade or two ago. And this week the Arctic has provided a dramatic and deeply disturbing example.

According to IARC/JAXA satellite data at Arctic Sea-ice Monitor from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the sea-ice extent of 24 August 2012 of 4,209,219 square kilometres broke the previous record in the satellite era of 4,254,531 square kilometres set on 24 August 2007. Back then the were scientific gasps that the sea ice was melting "100 years ahead of schedule".

What is astounding is that the record has been broken with three to four weeks of the melt season to go, and that the rate of melting this month is unprecedented in the modern record. Check the chart above (click to enlarge), with the red line mapping 2012 sea-ice extent. The slope of the line is much steeper than in previous years for August.

Looking at the data, the daily rate of sea-ice loss for 1-24 August has been 99,029 square kilometres per day in 2012, compared to:

  • 2007   62,976 square kilometres per day
  • 2008   72,785 square kilometres per day
  • 2009   53,859 square kilometres per day
  • 2010   55,109 square kilometres per day
  • 2011   63,342 square kilometres per day
  • 2012   99,029 square kilometres per day

And last three days have been 119,219, 128,281 and 122,188 square kilometres per day (they use 2-day running average, so last figure subject to revision).

It is remarkable that rate of loss is so much greater than previous years this late in the melt season, and at present shows no sign of easing.

The ice is now much thinner on average than in the past, as the extent of multi-year ice declines sharply. Thin ice is easily smashed up by storms and rough seas, and that's what's happened this year. In early August, a huge, long-lived Arctic ocean storm decimated the sea ice area which was melting out at a record rate, before the high waves and winds shattered the Siberian side of the ice cap.  But there have been subsequent, less well-reported, cyclonic storms churning up the ice, which may explain why the melt rate has not eased off in the last 10 days.

What the minimum extent will be this year is anybody's guess. It depends on weather conditions over the next three weeks, and how much ice is now just above the threshold (of 15 per cent sea-ice in a given area) and is currently counted as sea-ice, but likely to be below the threshold by the third week of September.

Even if the ice loss over the next 3-4 weeks was similar in magnitude to previous recent years, the season low could be around 3.5 million square kilometres. Maybe a good bit more, perhaps somewhat less. We will have to wait and see.

The next chart, amended, from NSIDC shows the 2007 fourth IPCC report projections for Arctic sea ice (blue line) and projections for RCP4.5 (representative concentration pathways) (red line) being used for the forthcoming fifth IPCC report in 2014. Actual observations are in black, and I have taken the liberty of sketching in grey what it will look like if the 2012 figure is around 3.5 million square kilometres.

While you may not yet get why the disappearance of arctic ice is a big deal for you, wherever you live, this video from last spring does a nice job of explaining our best emergent understanding of the consequences of open water in the arctic.

2. Worldwide Drought as of August 2012

Worldwide Drought as of August 2012

The above image from the Global Drought Monitor shows the extent of the drought worldwide as of August 2012.  More than 152 million people are living in areas experiencing exceptional drought (the dark red areas), which is defined as "exceptional and widespread crop and pasture losses; exceptional fire risk; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies."

The orange colors mark areas where crop and pasture losses are "major" and fire risk is very high to extreme, so people living in those areas aren't doing much better. On the map above, you can see the droughts that have been affecting large portions of the grain-growing regions in the northern hemisphere – central U.S., eastern Europe, central Russia.

Drought North America August 2012

Looking more closely at North America in the drought map shows not just the central U.S. in a drought, but also the eastern Canadian provinces and nearly all of Mexico and central America. The U.S. imports about $16 million worth of agricultural products from Mexico each year; about half of that is fruit and vegetable products. Drought in that region will adversely affect food prices in the U.S.

Drought Europe August 2012

Russia is one of the major producers of cereal grains for the world. The drought hitting the north side of the Black Sea has destroyed much of the crop for this year. The recent rains in the area came too late. The drought in the central regions of Russia is also damaging a major agricultural area.

Drought Asia August 2012

India has been afflicted with water mismanagement for years. No part of India is escaping the drought this year, causing disagreements between states over how much water goes where.

Droughts are natural and have been happening since the world began, but there are ways to alleviate the stress of droughts. Sound water management policies on the household, local, regional, national, and even international levels are an absolute necessity.

All images in this post courtesy of the UCL Global Drought Monitor


US Fuel Economy Standards Will Save US Consumers $Billions, But Top Republicans Want to Kill Them

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 06:00 AM PDT

 
by Farron Cousins

proposed rule by the Obama Administration to raise fuel economy standards for cars and "light-trucks" is facing mounting attacks by Republican lawmakers. The proposed rule would require all newly manufactured automobiles that fall under the car or light truck category to achieve a minimum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

The crusade against the new CAFE standards is being led by Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa claims that the new standards amount to "coercion" of the auto industry. Rep. Issa has received more than $188,000 from the oil industry during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Issa's statements show how out of touch he truly is with both economics and business, as the new standards were the result of cooperation between the Obama Administration and the auto industry itself.

The new fuel economy standards have been approved by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo, who together control 90% of the United States' auto sales market.

U.S. News and World Report details the contention over the standards, as well as the benefits for consumers:

Fuel economy standards have become a surprising example of tougher government rules that benefit practically everybody. In 2007, the Bush administration raised the gas mileage requirements automakers had to meet. Then in 2009, the Obama administration raised them further. Those rules, which are about to be finalized in detail, will require each automaker’s fleet to average a lofty 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—roughly double the mileage requirement of just five years ago.

The aggressive new standards are controversial, especially among Republicans opposed to activist government. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, for one, characterizes the new rules as just another effort to “insert the federal government into the life of the private sector.” He has suggested that if elected, he’ll roll back or even seek to eliminate federal mileage standards.

Yet so far, the new mileage rules have generated tangible benefits for consumers, with few of the downsides opponents have predicted. “Without a doubt, the new rules have been a win-win for everybody,” says Jesse Toprak, of the car-research site TrueCar.com. “It’s a win for consumers, a win for manufacturers, and a win for the environment.”

Boosting fuel economy by four or five miles per gallon might not sound earth-shattering—until you bank the savings. A 5 mpg improvement would save about $525 per year for a motorist who drives 15,000 miles annually, if gas were at $3.50 per gallon. With gas at $4 per gallon, the savings would amount to $600 per year.

But the benefits of the new standards extend far beyond personal bank accounts. Reports show that the new fuel standards would create an estimated 700,000 new American jobs.

Republicans like Darrell Issa claim that the $192 billion price tag that the standards impose on industry is too lofty to incur right now, but that view is incredibly short-sighted and dishonest.

The new standards will save a projected $1.7 trillion for U.S. consumers by the time of full implementation, meaning that the investment will pay off tenfold. Additionally, by the year 2025, reports show that consumers will be saving an average of $8,000 a year per vehicle.

Issa is not alone in his crusade against the new standards. Joining him in the fight is Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania, who happens to have amassed his $11.9 million personal fortune from the car dealerships that he owns in Pennsylvania. Kelly made the following statement about the new standards: "The new CAFE standards will limit choice, compromise safety, and increase costs to millions of Americans."

Unfortunately for Kelly, there are no numbers or statistics to back up any of these claims, particularly his statement about compromising the safety of consumers. Safety and fuel economy aren't two things that are directly related, so it would be interesting to find out where he pulled that from.

Again, all of the major automobile makers have signed onto the new standards, and agree they are necessary to save consumers money, to help their businesses survive in a competitive economy, and to help reduce air pollution emissions.

The only people who stand against the new standards are the politicians beholden to the dirty energy industry.

Image Credit: gas pump via Shutterstock


Community Solar Matters, and Why

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 04:00 AM PDT

 
community solar flowerWhen you subtract out shady roofs, renters, and other factors, only about 25% of Americans have a place to install solar power.  With the high upfront cost of a complete system, the potential solar universe shrinks further.

That changes with "community solar."

After a long wait on the state's Public Utilities Commission to finalize the rules, Colorado's "community solar gardens" program (my summary here) sold out in 30 minutes when it opened yesterday, testament to the pent-up demand for solar among who don't own a sunny roof.  The program allows individuals to subscribe or buy shares in a local solar project, and in return receive a share of the electricity output.

The community solar garden policy offers several significant benefits:

  • Individuals can go solar without a sunny roof or without owning one at all.
  • Individuals can buy as little as a 1 kW share or as much as produces 120% of their own consumption.
  • The solar garden projects capture economies of scale by building more panels at a single, central location and capture the advantages of decentralization by interconnecting to the distribution (low voltage) part of the electricity grid close to demand.
  • Solar gardens cultivate a sense of ownership and geographic connection, requiring subscribers to live in the same county as their shared solar array.  This can reduce political opposition to solar projects and increase local economic benefits.

Fortunately, Colorado isn't the only state considering this policy.  California's legislature is currently debating SB 843 to allow "community shared solar" and other renewable energy.  Several other states offer a blanket policy called "virtual net metering" that lets customers share the output from a single renewable energy facility, although sometimes it's limited to certain types of customers (municipalities, residential, etc.)

This post was originally published at the Energy Self-Reliant States blog and was reprinted with permission.


Worst Drought in Decades Could Affect U.S. Energy Markets

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 03:57 AM PDT

 
Editor’s note: solar PV and wind energy use a ton less water than their electricity counterparts (nuclear, coal, oil, and combined cycle power plants).

drought map us

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Note: Primary designation refers to a county’s status as drought affected while a contiguous designation refers to those counties on the boundary of a drought affected county.

Despite the imminent landfall of Hurricane Isaac in the Gulf Coast, the United States is currently experiencing its worst drought in decades, as measured by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Droughts have relatively well-understood impacts on food crops and markets. But droughts can also affect energy markets. A significant amount of corn production is used to produce ethanol, which makes up about 10% of the motor gasoline pool by volume and provides 6%–7% of the gasoline’s energy content. And since the generation of electricity can be very water-intensive, droughts affect the power sector.

Drastically reduced rainfall and triple-digit temperatures throughout much of the nation have damaged corn and other crops, which will have significant impacts on supplies and prices for animal feed, livestock, meat and dairy products, and processed grain products, including ethanol. The drought has also disrupted the transportation of some commodities, such as petroleum and coal, that are delivered by barges on the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reported groundings of traffic along the Mississippi River due to low water depths, and NOAA has stated that portions of the Mississippi River south of Memphis are below the 1988 low-water level. Droughts can also create reliability concerns for electric power plants. Increased temperatures drive demand for electricity to cool homes and businesses, but lower water levels can affect the operation of many thermoelectric power plants.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint publication of USDA and NOAA, is currently reporting that large areas of the Midwest and Great Plains regions are experiencing significant drought conditions. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC), integrating Drought Monitor data with weather forecasting, is predicting that the drought conditions will remain mostly unchanged through the end of November.

An upcoming series of Today in Energy articles will focus on the impact of the drought on various energy sectors in the United States.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (August 2012).


Natural Gas & Renewable Energy Dominate US Electricity Additions in 1st Half of 2012

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 03:42 AM PDT

 
Editor’s notes: 1) As stated near the bottom of this post, these figures don’t include small-scale and commercial-scale solar, a big piece of the solar pie. 2) The original title of this article was “Natural gas, renewables dominate electric capacity additions in first half of 2012″ — it was edited for this site.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860M “Monthly Update to the Annual Electric Generator Report.” 
Note: Data are preliminary and include all generators at plants >1MW in capacity, from the electric power, commercial, and industrial sectors. “Other renewables” includes hydroelectric, geothermal, landfill gas, and biomass generators. States are listed by postal code

During the first half of 2012, 165 new electric power generators were added in 33 states, for a total of 8,098 megawatts (MW) of new capacity. Of the ten states with the highest levels of capacity additions, most of the new capacity uses natural gas or renewable energy sources. Capacity additions in these ten states total 6,500 MW, or 80% of the new capacity added nationally in the first six months of 2012.

Most of the new generators built over the past 15 years are powered by natural gas or wind. In 2012, the addition of natural gas and renewable generators comes at a time when natural gas and renewable generation are contributing increasing amounts to total generation across much of the United States. In particular, efficient combined-cycle natural gas generators are competitive with coal generators over a large swath of the country. And, in the first half of 2012, these combined-cycle generators were added in states that traditionally burn mostly coal (with the exception of Idaho, which has significant hydroelectric resources).

Only one coal-fired generator was brought online in the first half of 2012, an 800-MW unit at the Prairie State Energy Campus in Illinois. In its 2011 annual survey of power plant operators, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) received no new reports of planned coal-fired generators. Of the planned coal generators in EIA databases, 14 are reported in the construction phrase, with an additional 5 reporting a planned status but not yet under construction. However, only one of the 14 advanced from a pre-construction to an under-construction status between the 2010 and 2011 surveys.

More small generators were added than large generators: of the 165 generators added, 105 were under 25 MW. Many of these use renewable energy sources, most commonly solar and landfill gas; wind plants aggregate many individual turbines into one large “generator” for reporting purposes. So far, 2012 has also seen a significant number of new peaking generators, the combustion turbines and internal combustion engines that operate when electric demand is at its highest, which also tend to be on the small side. These technologies are usually fueled by natural gas or petroleum, but can also burn landfill gas (Michigan alone added 8 of these in the first half of 2012) or agricultural byproducts.

In Texas, which is facing a shortage of generating capacity reserves, 70% of the capacity added was in the industrial sector and not the electric power sector: the Formosa Plastics Corporation added two generators burning petroleum coke.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-860 “Annual Electric Generator Report” and Form EIA-860M “Monthly Update to the Annual Electric Generator Report.” 
Note: 2011 and 2012 data are preliminary. Data include all generators at plants >1MW in capacity, from the electric power, commercial, and industrial sectors. 

Solar has shown significant growth in the electric power sector over the past two years. From the beginning of 2010 to the end of June 2012, 1,308 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity has come online, more than tripling the 619 MW in place at the end of 2009. Despite this significant increase, these additions understate actual solar capacity gains. Unlike other energy sources, significant levels of solar capacity exist in smaller, non-utility-scale applications (e.g., rooftop solar photovoltaics). These appear in a separate EIA survey collecting data on net metering and distributed generation.

More capacity was added in the first half of 2012 than was retired. A total of 3,092 MW was retired, from 58 generators in 17 states. Over half of this was coal, and another 30% was petroleum-fired generators. Two recent Today in Energy articles address future coal generator retirements, both as reported by powerplant owners and operators, and as projected by EIA as part of a long-term forecast.

Detailed data on each generator addition and retirement are available in the Electric Power Monthly (in tables ES3 and ES4, respectively). These data represent responses to EIA’s monthly update survey of existing electric generators. An annual survey will collect final data from all industry participants early next year.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (August 2012).


Laser Beam as a ’3-D Painter’ to Grow Biological Tissue or to Create Micro Sensors

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 03:20 AM PDT

 
Using laser beams it’s now possible to fix molecules to an exactly desired placement in a three-dimensional material. This new method can be used to precisely grow biological tissue or to create micro sensors.

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There are many different processes available to create three dimensional objects on a micrometer scale, but great precision doing so has until now been lacking. Now, the chemical properties of a material can be tuned at the micrometer level. Researchers from the Vienna University of Technology developed a method that makes it possible to attach molecules at an exactly desired position.

When this is used with biological tissues being grown, the method allows “the positioning of chemical signals, telling living cells where to attach.” There is also some hope that the technique will improve sensor technology: “A tiny three dimensional ‘lab on a chip’ could be created, in which accurately positioned molecules react with substances from the environment.”

“3-D-photografting” is the name the researchers gave the new method. The researchers involved in the project have previously been involved in the development of new types of 3-D-printers. 3-D printers have limitations on the micro scale, and wouldn’t be useful for the same types of applications that “3-D-photografting” would: “Putting together a material from tiny building blocks with different chemical properties would be extremely complicated,” says Aleksandr Ovsianikov. “That is why we start from a three dimensional scaffold and then attach the desired molecules at exactly the right positions.”

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“The scientists start with a so-called hydrogel — a material made of macromolecules, arranged in a loose meshwork. Between those molecules, large pores remain, through which other molecules or even cells can migrate. Specially selected molecules are introduced into the hydrogel meshwork, then certain points are irradiated with a laser beam. At the positions where the focused laser beam is most intense, a photochemically labile bond is broken.”

By doing that, there are highly reactive intermediates created which attach on the locally level to the hydrogel almost immediately. “The precision depends on the laser’s lens system, at the Vienna University of Technology a resolution of 4 µm could be obtained.”

“Much like an artist, placing colors at certain points of the canvas, we can place molecules in the hydrogel — but in three dimensions and with high precision,” says Aleksandr Ovsianikov.

“It’s possible to artificially grow biological tissue using this method. Similar to a vine climbing a scaffold, cells need some scaffold at which they can attach. In a natural biological tissue, “the extracellular matrix does the trick by using specific amino acid sequences to signal the cells, where they are supposed to grow. In the lab, scientists are trying to use similar chemical signals. In various experiments, cell attachment could be guided on two dimensional surfaces, but in order to grow larger tissues with a specific inner structure (such as capillaries), a truly three dimensional technique is required.”

3-D photografting is useful for more than just bio-engineering, fields as diverse as photovoltaics or sensor technology could benefit. And for these different applications different molecules can be used. When working with very limited space, “molecules can be positioned which attach to specific chemical substances and allow their detection.” Using this it will be possible to create a microscopic three-dimensional “lab on a chip.”

Source: Vienna University of Technology
Image Credits: Vienna University of Technology, TU Vienna


Puma Opens Sustainable Store in India

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 03:16 AM PDT

 

Bangalore, India is attracting a few green businesses these days, including Mahindra Reva EV manufacturer and Puma.

Just this month, Puma opened a 8,600-square-foot store that keeps cool without air conditioning, a rooftop garden, and enough solar power to generate about 10,384 kilowatt-hours a year. Even the interior has eco-friendly touches, like recycled wood and steel from old electronics and bicycles.

So, if you find yourself in southern India, be sure to drop in on the green buildings of Puma and Mahindra Reva.

Source: ecouterre


Penn Energy Renewables, Canadian Solar to Build Two Canadian Solar Farms

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 03:00 AM PDT

 
Canadian Solar Solutions, a subsidiary of Canadian Solar, has signed a deal that will help build and maintain two new solar farms for Penn Energy Renewables in Ontario, Canada.

The new solar plants will create 18.7 MW AC of energy, according to the statement. That’s the same as powering 2,600 homes, while taking out  432,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Meanwhile, the new farms should be up and running by the summer of 2013, as construction will start later this year.

According to the release, the project is expected to create more than 100 new jobs.

“We are committed to developing and operating utility-scale solar PV projects that provide clean, infinitely renewable solar energy to the homes, businesses and schools in the communities that we serve," said Sean McCloskey of Penn Renewables in a statement.

“As a developer and long-term investor in solar PV projects, we were impressed with Canadian Solar’s full array of offerings, which include modules manufactured in Ontario, EPC services and the provision of long-term operations and maintenance services.”

Dr. Shawn Qu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Solar also echoed his excitement in the statement:

“We believe strong companies, like Penn Energy, want to work with Canadian Solar because of our track record, expertise, bankability, photovoltaicpanel reliability, and global brand name.  As a result, we have built an impressive portfolio of projects and have a very robust pipeline of attractive projects in Canada, the U.S. and Asia.  We believe that we have a strong position in Ontario and each project that we complete builds on our lead as the most experienced and dependable developer in Ontario to take a project from development stage to full operation.”

Source: PR Newswire
Image Credit: Perth Ontario Solar Panels via Shutterstock


Bavarian Village Rakes in $5.7 Million/Year by Selling Green Energy

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 02:46 AM PDT

 
Small towns have no more excuses. Bavarian village Wildpoldsreid, with a population of about 2,600, has created a local economy that produces 321% more energy than it needs, selling the excess back to the national grid at a rate of $5.7 million annually. This little German powerhouse has utilized solar, biogas digesters, windmills, hydro power plants, and a natural wastewater system to reduce its own use and increase its energy positive output. Every hamlet, township, city, metropolis, and megalopolis can learn something from Wildpoldsreid.

Many moons ago — in 1997 to be exact — the Wildpoldsreid village council realized it needed to come up with some industries to bring in some money. Wanting to create local jobs without running up boatloads of debt, the council settled on green initiatives. Fifteen years later, Wildpoldsreid has nine buildings equipped with solar panels, three small hydro power plants, four (soon to be five) biogas digesters, and seven (soon to be nine) wind turbines. Private citizens have also gotten in on the action, with about 190 homes sporting solar panels.

What’s all the eco-friendly investment done for Wildpoldsreid? A lot. This community has kept itself from becoming a no-name whistle-stop, with its small business scene dedicated to — and thriving because of — green technology installations.

In addition to all the feel-good stuff, Wildpoldsreid is making cash hand over fist and garnering international accolades. The council and mayor are known to give tours of Wildpoldsreid to other village councils, showing them a greener way forward. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the mayor has even done some global tours.

Wildpoldsreid has taken its green idea and turned it into a way of life for its citizens, and a model for onlookers. By investing in sustainable technologies, the tiny Germany town proves that communities of all sizes can change their trajectories.

Source: inhabitat
Image: Robert Biedermann via Shutterstock

 


Rotational PV Globes Absorb Energy From Moonlight

Posted: 29 Aug 2012 02:39 AM PDT

 

It sure looks like German architect André Broessel loved marbles and bubbles as a boy, since those spheres have found a way into his designs of buildings.

These multipurpose globes act as windows and solar energy captors. The solar globes that he designed — known as the ß.torics system — are weatherproof, fully rotational and can generate energy from moonlight.

This design is a great marriage of functionality, sustainability and winsomeness. Well done, Mr. Broessel.

Source: inhabitat
Images: Courtesy of Rawlemon


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